Google Apps, once a leader, faces growing cloud app rivals

Analysts say it needs to improve its unified communications and enterprise social efforts or risk being left behind

By , IDG News Service |  Enterprise Software

Whirlpool wants to push its employees to communicate with video conferencing, to share and co-edit documents in real time and to exchange ideas in internal online communities.

Thus, he's excited about the real-time collaboration capabilities in the suite's Docs office productivity apps, and he's interested in the new Hangouts UC tool in the Google+ consumer social networking app.

Hangouts, announced in May, will replace several Google audio, video and IM tools -- including Chat, Talk and Google+ Messenger -- consolidating and improving their functions.

Heim also expects Apps to gain a native, workplace-specific ESN element in the not-too-distant future. "Bringing these social collaboration tools to the enterprise is a big reason for moving to platforms like Google Apps," he said. "We expect to see that supported and its development continued in this product."

Google launched the consumer version of Google+ in 2011; shortly after, officials confirmed that the company had plans to make a workplace version of it for Apps.

While Google has taken steps in that direction, periodically adding features for IT administrators and users, it hasn't yet released a full-featured, supported, native version of Google+ for Apps. Companies can turn on the current version of Google+ in their Apps domains so their employees can use it.

ESN tools gain ground at work

In the meantime, ESN tools have become more popular and almost mainstream in the collaboration market, and are now essential in many organizations. Known popularly as "Facebook for the Enterprise," ESN suites let employees create profiles, publish blogs, do microblogging, share documents, participate in discussion forums, set up online groups and communities and post comments. ESN software is supposed to complement traditional forms of communications like email, phones and instant messaging.

The main players include pure-play ESN vendors like Jive Software and NewsGator, and tools from larger vendors like Tibco's Tibbr, Salesforce.com's Chatter, IBM's Connections and Microsoft's Yammer.

Of course, some Google Apps customers are happy with Gmail as their main communication tool and with the other apps in the suite. That's the case at Composites One, a distributor of plastics and glass products in North America.

"We're very heavy Gmail users," said Hal Greene, vice president of information systems at Composites One, where some employees have used up the 25GB allotted for their inboxes, and required extra storage.

"We have a lot of emails with a lot of attachments," he said.

Employees there also use Docs, Calendar, Drive, Talk and Sites, which serves as the company's intranet.

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